Unlike Valentine’s Day, love is not the subject of a single day for Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, which devotes a whole spring course to studying the roots of contemporary love.
“Studying love is as important or more important than studying physics,” says Professor Robert Pogue Harrison, who asks “what is the use of understanding the cosmos if we can not develop the knowledge of ourselves and our priorities?” .
With this idea the School of Humanities and Sciences of the prestigious university designed five years ago the course “What is love?”, “What is Love?” in its translation into English.
“It’s a question that everyone at some point in life makes, maybe they do not have an answer, but it has to be done,” says David Lummus, one of the teachers who designed the course.
“What is Love?”, Which is offered in the spring semester to first-year students, has been growing in popularity among students in recent years.
The study plan aims that at the end of the course the student has tried to answer questions such as: Is love a spiritual or corporal phenomenon? Is it a concept of eternal love or always changing? How to think about love leads us to ask other important philosophical and social questions?
The analysis they make of love teachers like Harrison, who is in charge of the course, is the opposite of the commercial burden that comes with the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
The National Federation of Retailers of the United States estimates that consumers in this country will spend around 20.7 billion dollars in the celebration of love in 2019.
Although the figure of spending continues to grow every year, paradoxically the number of those celebrating this day is declining.
Ten years ago more than 60% of American adults said they were going to celebrate in some way the Day of Love or Lovers, as it is called in some countries, while in 2019 the percentage has been reduced by half, according to with the retailers.
“Love is not a trivial issue,” emphasizes Harrison.
The professor warns that through the centuries romantic love has been the subject of discussion and inspiration for the greatest philosophers, writers and thinkers in the history of Western culture.
For example, Harrison explains that people celebrating this day of love and friendship should thank Plato for the concept of the soul mate and the search for the “half orange”
The speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium suggests that humans were originally similar creatures but the gods divided them in half.
“Since then, humans would feel incomplete, and they would need to restore unity and that’s why they look for the other half lost,” explains Harrison.
While the belief of the other half dates from the fourth century BC, details such as giving flowers and acts of chivalry have their origins in the courtiers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the south of modern France, where Western lyric poetry originated.
Harrison believes that our ideas about romantic love have evolved very little over time when it comes to the essentials: “We still think that love is ennobling and intimate, a deeply personal form of spiritual transcendence.”
Even the romantic lyrics of pop music are inherited from the great tradition of courtly love and the flourishing of the love poetry of the troubadours in the 12th and 13th centuries.
“Most students are surprised that all of these concepts about love and expressions of romance have been inherited and studied by greats like Dante or Shakespeare,” says Harrison.
“What is love?” it is not the only course that Stanford teaches on this subject. The Californian university also offers the online course “Love as a force for social justice”.
This course, taught by Professor Anne Firth Murray, seeks to make participants aware of the power of love and the possibility of practicing it in everyday life, as well as highlighting in particular the idea of love as a force for social justice.
While the California State University Long Beach, in the south of the state, promotes a course that explores the representations of eroticism, love and romance through history.
“Love was, is and will continue to be a matter of study,” Harrison states. (EFEUSA) .-